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US peace plan may unwittingly unite Palestinians against it

Rival Palestinian factions are expected to meet again soon to seek reconciliation so they can make a united stand against the United States' "deal of the century."
Palestinians wave national flags as they march in the streets of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, calling for the cessation of divisions between Fatah and Hamas and the unification of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on January 12, 2019. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

Fatah and Hamas are working to put aside their differences to foil the "deal of the century," which the White House unveiled Jan. 28. All Palestinians, including the two long-divided movements, denounced the peace plan, which Palestinians say heavily favors Israel.

Palestinians are evaluating the negative implications of the deal, as well as its potential to turn the page on the Palestinian division. Their similar take on the peace plan stirs talk about how determined they are to achieve reconciliation and refuse the deal in one united voice. They are discussing the remaining points of contention between them, a possible meeting between their leaders — be it in Gaza or outside of it — and their demands from each other to achieve reconciliation.

In a rare step following the deal's introduction, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on most Palestinian faction leaders, including Hamas leaders in the West Bank, to come to the presidential headquarters in Ramallah. Hamas figures responded to the invitation, including several former ministers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council such as Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, Samir Abu Aisha, Ayman Daraghmeh, Omar Abdul Razak and Ahmed Atoun.

Also that day, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called Abbas and stressed his rejection of the deal, the importance of national unity, and Hamas’ readiness to work jointly with Fatah politically and in the field to thwart the US plan.

Mahmoud Mardawi, a member of Hamas' National Relations Office, told Al-Monitor, “The declaration of the deal and the stances of several Arab states have disappointed Palestinians who are leaning toward clearing the air internally and restoring chances for Hamas and Fatah to work together and beef up their cooperation to foil the deal. But the strategic decision is in the hands of Abbas, who should take serious action regarding the reconciliation, rather than [uttering] the usual platitudes. The bilateral meetings between Fatah and Hamas should not be part of a public relations campaign … that would soon fade away. Otherwise, we would be committing a strategic error that would play against the Palestinian cause for future generations.”

At a special meeting held Feb. 3 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the US peace plan, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation announced it rejects the deal and called on member states not to deal or cooperate with the US administration for its implementation.

The Arab League as a whole unanimously rejected the deal Feb. 1, saying it does not meet the minimum rights of the Palestinian people and it violates the principles of the peace process. Yet despite the official stance, the positions of individual ministers there varied. In his speech at the meeting, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned against the repercussions of the plan. But his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah bin Faisal Al Saud, stressed in his speech that military approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have not achieved peace or security.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah expressed his country’s appreciation for the US effort to find a solution to the Palestinian cause. For his part, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa called for considering the peace plan as a way to begin negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, saying Israel is moving forward with peace. Meanwhile, Anwar Gargash, United Arab Emirates minister of state for foreign affairs, stressed his country’s support for efforts aimed at reaching a solution through direct talks between Israel and Palestinians. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stressed the importance of achieving a comprehensive settlement in the region to prevent terrorists and extremists from highjacking the Palestinian cause.

Despite Hamas’ political action against the US plan, it seems the movement was unable to win over some major Arab countries. In light of those positions, Hamas sought to draw on some other Arab and Islamic countries that rejected the deal. On Feb. 1, Haniyeh met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, where they discussed the deal and its consequences.

On Feb. 4, Haniyeh also discussed the deal in a call to Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani. The same day, Haniyeh called Lebanon’s parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, to stress the need to consolidate rejection of the deal. 

A delegation of Palestinian factions plans to head to Gaza to prepare for Abbas’ ultimate visit there, after receiving an invitation from Haniyeh, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad announced in a Jan. 29 press statement. Ahmad did not specify when the visits will take place, but he explained they will herald meetings to end the rift and find ways to confront the US peace plan. Haniyeh said he welcomes the visit and considers it a steppingstone for a new phase of the national dialogue.

Fayez Abu Aita, deputy secretary-general of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “The deal of the century sabotages the Palestinian cause, and Fatah and Hamas should put forth a serious plan that they both agree on to outline their next steps. … They should expedite their endeavors to end the rift." He said the upcoming meetings can "set the foundations for a new phase."

Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO’s Legislative Committee, told Al Jazeera on Jan. 29 that the first steps to defy the deal will be to tackle Palestinian weak spots, including the division. He said the reconciliation will happen, and the division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip will end. Also that day, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem emphasized to Arabi21 news the importance of setting a national strategy against the US proposal.

Ahmed Youssef, director of the House of Wisdom for Consultation and Conflict Resolution in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “If the Palestinian Authority (PA) remains opposed to the deal of the century and resists US and Arab pressure to accept it, the chances of reconciliation with Hamas will increase. Gaza is a suitable place to hold the reconciliation meetings between Fatah and Hamas because it is almost totally free from Israel. Hamas might be more inclined toward the PA’s stance of rejecting the deal with peaceful tools and diplomatic action rather than armed attacks. After Trump slammed Hamas during the announcement of the deal, the movement will be more cautious in using arms.”

Trump noted the "essentials" for Palestinians include "stopping the malign activities of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other enemies of peace, [and] ending the incitement of hatred against Israel. Also during the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the plan calls for Hamas to be disarmed and for Gaza to be demilitarized. 

Fatah and Hamas have repeatedly tried and failed to reconcile since the Palestinian split in 2007. Likewise, Fatah leaders have tried to mend their internal disputes. In a Jan. 28 Facebook post, dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan called on his rival Abbas to take decisive action to unite the Palestinian position regarding the deal.

Emad Mohsen, spokesperson for the Dahlan-led Democratic Reformist Current, told Al-Monitor, "The deal of the century is pushing Palestinian forces toward unity, ending the rift and restoring the Palestinian militancy project that was weakened and drained due to internal bickering. All Palestinian forces are invited to take the initiative to reject the deal, which has trampled on the two-state solution and the complete liberation of Palestinian territories. The national unity meeting should be held without further ado to put an end to the Oslo Accords.”

Izzadeen Ibrahim, a Palestinian journalist who writes for several news websites, told Al-Monitor, “The catastrophic situation the Palestinian cause has reached due to the rift is making it more difficult to confront the deal. The PA is unable to take real action to address the deal, and Abbas is just making threats that have no real impact. Hamas is in an unenviable situation, as it is besieged in Gaza, and its hands are tied in the West Bank. Any calls for a new uprising without a clear, agreed-upon strategy will be fleeting and will only throw Palestinian generations into a new cycle of frustration.”

Despite the potential rapport building between Fatah and Hamas, PA security has not stopped arresting Hamas members in the West Bank. This casts doubt over the PA’s seriousness in reconciling with Hamas and gives the impression that rapprochement is a tactic rather than a strategic decision.

Some Hamas circles in the West Bank believe Abbas could have asked his security apparatus to release dozens of Hamas detainees to prove his good intentions when he invited Hamas leaders to meet with him. Without real action, reconciliation calls will remain propaganda slogans rather than serious and tangible steps for Palestinians.

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